How to Write Sales Emails People Will Actually Reply to

Want to know the secret to getting your prospect’s attention? Keep it short, make your message about them and lay out clear next steps.
Yale Reardon headshot
Yale Reardon
Expert Columnist
September 24, 2020
Updated: September 25, 2020
Yale Reardon headshot
Yale Reardon
Expert Columnist
September 24, 2020
Updated: September 25, 2020

In every sales organization, there are top performers. Have you ever wondered why some of your teammates book more meetings, close more deals and upsell more clients?

Ive explored these questions ever since I entered the workforce. My first experience in sales began when I was a teenager, passing out hundreds of flyers in my neighborhood to teach tennis lessons to kids and adults. Coordinating logistics, assessing weaknesses, setting expectations and helping my clients improve their skills taught me early on that communication was essential to a trustworthy relationship.

My first corporate job was in third-party logistics, and as anyone whos worked in that industry knows, it requires incredible willpower to keep making dials in the face of adversity, working weekends and holidays and doing anything possible to compete for a prospects attention to win their business.

Written communication skills are what separate the great sales reps from the average ones. As weve shifted to full-time remote selling, guiding a buyer from first outreach to signed contract has to be frictionless. Your prospects have internal emails, meetings, Slack notifications, Salesforce chatter, and a million different tasks that are going to take priority over you. Buyers are being contacted on every platform possible and are overwhelmed and annoyed by salespeople flooding their inboxes.

To make matters tougher for sales people, there has been a gradual shift in buyers removing their phone number from signatures over the last five years to prevent calls. This has forced sellers to be better at capturing attention. In 2020, buyers typically have more than enough information to fully understand a product or service from a company website or peer-review sites like G2. They’re going to buy from you instead of your competitor not because of price or product but because of how easy you make it for them.

Related reading9 Strategies for Building an Amazing Sales Deck

 

Avoid My Early Mistakes

In that first sales job, my manager gave me a list of potential prospects to call. When I couldnt get my prospects on the phone, I would cold-email them. I’d been communicating online since I was a kid. Ive sent a million texts and written papers for college classes. Emailing professionals couldn’t be much different, right? But those early emails were some of the worst you could imagine. Here’s how you can avoid falling into some of the same traps.

Too long: I sent multiple paragraphs, some of which probably looked like a senior thesis. As weve shifted to mobile, why would a busy person ever stop to read that — especially for a first-touch email? Nobody responded.

Navel gazing: Me, me, me; I, I, I. My emails would entirely be about my product, my service and what I wanted or needed. News flash, nobody cares about me.

Too robotic: I used buzzwords like “seamless” and “leverage” and “synergy” and “innovation.” I sounded like a robot pretending to be a salesman. That wasn’t me, but I thought thats how I was supposed to email in the corporate world. I sounded like an automated marketing tool, not a person.

Poor formatting: I used bullet points, multiple links and even GIFs. Who would read that junk?

Bad subject lines: While there is no perfect subject line, mine were bad and likely were deleted immediately. I tried gimmicks with “Fwd:” and “Re:.” I was using my company name in most of my emails’ prime real estate. Once again, I was self centered.

Extra fluff: I opened with “Hope you had a great weekend,” or “How are you?” or “Hope all is well.” Why was I sending these insincere messages to strangers and taking up valuable space?

Asking for time as a CTA: A common end to an email is, “Do you have 15 minutes next week?” Sometimes, people even link to a calendar. This came off awkwardly because I was asking for something without knowing if they were interested in the first place.

Zero personalization: To send out hundreds of emails a day, I would create templates and change the prospect name and company. Anyone with half a brain could tell it was a boilerplate email.

No clear next steps: When I did have a prospect interested, I made the process of buying difficult. At the end of my messages, I rarely would confirm our next meeting, actions required or anything remotely helpful. I probably lost so many deals because of confusion or frustration.

 

How to Improve Your Email Skills

Once I admitted I was terrible at emailing, I started to seek out people who were seeing success. I listened to podcasts, trawled Reddit and read HubSpot’s tips and tricks on how to email better. These tools taught me the secret to email is that less is more.

While you’re Googling email templates, a million other sales reps are doing the same thing. Pretty soon, buyers are getting the exact same emails from different companies. Eventually, they become numb to it. Do not copy and paste a template. It’ll get you nowhere, and youll just look like every other sales person.

My biggest suggestion is to personalize. And when I say personalize, I dont mean writing, “Hey I saw you went to Michigan State!” Mention something you saw on their careers page, blog, a challenge companies are facing in their industry or anything that shows you did a little bit of research prior to contacting them. The goal of a first-touch email is to show that youre human. You’ll capture their interest by uncovering a problem they might be facing. Then, you can see if they are open to more information.

 

Be Brief

Keeping things short, simple and to the point is what will always get you the best responses rates and engagement. I’m talking about a maximum of 80 to 100 words in your first email. If that sounds extreme, go back and look at the last email you sent to a prospect. I guarantee you can chop several sentences and still get your point across — and it will improve your chances of a response. Email yourself a draft, and open it on your phone. If you have to scroll down, its too long.

The first sentence is often more impactful than the subject line because the first 10 words are usually visible to your prospect in the preview. If you start your email by writing, “Hi, Im Johnny Sales with XYZ Company, and Im reaching out because...” stop and delete it right away. That format has been beaten to death and makes you look like everyone else.

 

Hone Your Call to Action

The idea here is to look different from every other sales email. Your prospect can figure out your company from your signature or email address. In your message, you want to sound like an actual human, be trustworthy and offer them value that’s relevant to their industry.

After reading your note, your prospect should say: “This sounds interesting. I want to learn more!” And that’s where your CTA comes into play. I’m not big on asking for time; instead, I ask for interest: “Are you open to learning more? Does this sound interesting? Are you opposed to a conversation about this?”

You can throw out many of these rules once the prospect has engaged — with a few guidelines. Your goal remains to keep it short and sweet, while guiding the buyer to the next meeting, action or deadline. If youre writing an extremely long email, think twice before you hit send. An email that long likely would be better suited as a call.

Email is evolving. What worked in 2015 doesn’t in 2020. Over time, prospects tune out the buzzwords, generic formats and repetitive tactics. You have to continually innovate and come up with different strategies to separate yourself from the pack. Eighteen months from now, the winning strategy might look different.

Emails guide the prospect, however, and at the end of the day, its difficult to sell without a true human interaction. The key to that humanity is simple: Keep it short, make your message about them, and lay out clear next steps. Then, once youve opened the door to a genuine relationship, you can begin discussing how you can help solve their problems.

More From Yale ReardonHow We Repositioned Our Sales Pitch When the Economy Faltered

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